Personal computing pioneerWesley A. Clark

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A physicist, Clark worked at the Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the 1950s, computers were making inroads into science, but they were giant, expensive machines that needed squadrons of technical experts to keep running. But Clark had an insight: as technology advanced, computers would get smaller and more powerful, and thus would be more and more affordable. “Wes saw the future 15 years before anyone else,” says engineer Severo Ornstein, who also worked at Lincoln Labs in that era.

In May 1961, Clark started work on something radical for the time: a “personal” computer. The idea: rather than split up the tasks of a giant computer with “time sharing,” a better solution would be a smaller computer that dedicated all of its resources to a single user. What his team came up with was dubbed the Laboratory Instrument Computer, or LINC. The LINC didn’t quite lead to the PC as we know it today, since it didn’t have a small microprocessor, but rather an intermediate step: the “minicomputer”. It cost a paltry $43,000 — boggling, unless you consider that mainframes in that era cost millions. A new company, Digital Equipment Corp., was formed to build and sell the LINC. DEC’s LINC, and later its follow-on, PDP-1, later led to the first PC. For example, some of those who learned computing on the LINC went on to be pioneers in their own right, such as Stanford’s Larry Tesler, who designed the Lisa and Macintosh computers for Apple. Clark, meanwhile, helped design some of the architecture behind a new initiative, ARPAnet — the forerunner of the Internet. Clark died February 22 from atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. He was 88.

From This is True for 28 February 2016